(NaturalNews) For years, since America began its "global war on terror," weapons, vehicles and other equipment manufactured to fight it have been flowing out of war zones in Iraq and, increasingly, Afghanistan to local police departments. The question is, why?
According to cops, they need the gear to protect themselves against increasingly militant threats. They cite drug cartels, criminal enterprises and even local gangs as justification for acquiring the weapons of war.
But the reality is this: Few departments around the country, save for those located in border regions or in urban centers, ever face the kind of threats that these weapons and gear were made to face. So, again, what exactly are they doing in places like Ferguson, Missouri, where armored vehicles and cops dressed and outfitted like soldiers were so prevalent that Gov. Jay Nixon ordered local police to be replaced by Missouri State Highway Patrol officers?
It's a good question, and it is one that has been asked repeatedly -- by politicians and Americans on both the political right and left -- as images more reminiscent of martial law are splashed across newspapers, websites and television news broadcasts around the world.
'That's not control, that's intimidation'
As noted by The Washington Post:
For veterans of the wars that the Ferguson protests so closely resemble, the police response has appeared to be not only heavy-handed but out of step with the most effective ways for both law enforcement and military personnel to respond to demonstrations.
"You see the police are standing online with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at peoples chests," Jason Fritz, a former Army officer and an international policing operations analyst, told the paper. "That's not controlling the crowd, that's intimidating them."
Protests there began within hours after a Ferguson police officer, identified recently as six-year veteran Darren Wilson, encountered, shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown after a reported confrontation. Shortly thereafter, Ferguson P.D., along with local St. Louis County officers, began deploying cops in heavy riot gear, toting automatic weapons and armored vehicles.
[An interactive chart of the kinds and numbers of weapons and gear given to police forces around the country over the years from the wars can be seen here: NYTimes.com].
That level of response has alarmed more and more people.
Ten-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force's security component and SWAT officer Scriven King told the Post that the initial spate of violence was likely due to a lack of leadership and mismanagement of public perception on the part of the Ferguson P.D.
"The first thing that went wrong was when the police showed up with K-9 units," King said. "The dogs played on racist imagery... it played the situation up and [the department] wasn't cognizant of the imagery."
He added that, the next day, rather than work to deescalate the situation, cops instead showed up with armored vehicles, SWAT officers in bulletproof vests and military assault rifles.
Other war vets have made similar observations regarding the cops' overreaction(s).
"We went through some pretty bad areas of Afghanistan, but we didn't wear that much gear," Kyle Dykstra, an Army veteran and former security officer for the State Department, told the Post. He specifically pointed out the bulletproof armor officers were wearing around their shoulders, known as "Deltoid" armor.
"I can't think of a [protest] situation where the use of M4 [rifles] are merited," Fritz said. "I don't see it as a viable tactic in any scenario."
Militarization of peaceful protests?
According to The New York Times, the gear transferred has been extensive:
During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.
Gear was being transferred to local departments during the Bush Administration as well, but it's pace has picked up dramatically since Obama took office, and the wars overseas have begun winding down.
Protesting is as old as the country, and for the most part, protests in America do not generally involve a great deal of violence. But by looking at the growing militarization of police across the United States today, you would think that Americans are the most destructive, deadly lot on the planet.
That some choose to riot and destroy should not cast this kind of pall over the vast, vast majority of Americans who, when things like Ferguson happen, merely want their voices to be heard.
Peaceful protesting is not something that should be militarily suppressed. And yet, for a decade now, our police have increasingly been preparing for just that.